By Deborah Kotob, ABOM

Learning Objectives:

Upon completion of this program, the participant should be able to:

  1. Introduce the optician to the rich heritage of their profession.
  2. Instill appreciation in the optician for over a hundred years of ophthalmic lens research and development.
  3. Expose the optician to the historical timeline for key milestones in ophthalmic lens development.

Credit Statement:

This course has been approved for one (1) hour of Ophthalmic Level I continuing education credit by the ABO. Course number: STWJHI082-1
To earn ABO credit, please review the questions and take the test at Note: As of January 2020, no tests will be graded manually. Please call (800) 825-4696 for more information.


Opticianry is a calling, and we should take inspiration from our industry’s rich heritage to motivate us in our efforts and help us better express value to patients. Opticianry, as a profession, has a proud heritage that extends well beyond frame selection and adjustment. After all, what does an optical professional do? We help people see. We use lenses to manipulate light. We use the index of refraction of the material and the curvature and precise fitting metrics to correct refractive errors. We use AR to minimize reflections and reduce glare and halo for safer nighttime driving and improved lens cosmetics. We promote full UV protection in clear, photochromic, tinted lenses and polarized lenses to help patients protect their eyes and preserve their sight. And in the case of polarized lenses that block the blinding effects of horizontally reflected glare, we improve vision for patients in high-glare conditions for safer daytime driving and more comfortable enjoyment of outdoor activities. Thanks to digital lens designs and manufacturing advancements, we can now personalize lenses for patients and deliver optimal optical performance in lenses with wide fields of view with minimal peripheral distortion. This course will follow technological developments in ophthalmic optics from the 1800s to the present for history buffs. Understanding advances in lens technologies that provide the very best visual solutions for each patient is the mark of an optical professional. This course is designed to inspire those who have chosen this profession by educating them on the history of vision care technologies that have propelled this field forward. This course will enlighten the professional optician about the passion that motivates organizations to deliver breakthrough technologies continually.


Many events in ophthalmic optics lens history were inspired by a passion for providing vision solutions for patients. Learning this history and hearing these stories better equips us to raise the value in the patient’s eyes (pun intended) by increasing their appreciation for the science and technology behind their state-of-the-art glasses. Patients who recognize the value they are receiving from their eyeglasses are more likely to accept the premium price as justified. In an industry with increasing competition and commoditization, it can be challenging to convey this value to our patients. This challenge exists for all aspects of eyeglasses, but particularly lenses. Lenses often cost as much or more than frames. While lenses do the heavy lifting for vision correction, they don’t have the same emotional fashion connection or daily visible branding to help patients associate value. In this continuing education course, you will learn about our profession’s history and technological evolution. All ECPs should be aware that good corporate citizenship is increasingly important to consumers. According to multiple reports, consumers overwhelmingly prefer to buy from companies that practice good corporate citizenship. In this course, you will also learn about lens manufacturers that have made corporate social responsibility part of their mission. In the age we live in, giving back has never been more critical. Before we go through the timeline of the key developments, I want to highlight some of ZEISS’ early contributions that led to major milestones over the years in ophthalmic optics. Carl Zeiss sold glasses in the optical department of his store until 1880 before pursuing the subject of vision correction.. Ernst Abbe’s theory of ray limitation was supplemented by Gullstrand’s expertise on vision with the moving eye. In 1908, the ZEISS board entrusted one of its scientists, Moritz von Rohr, with the task of investigating possible improvements to eyeglass lenses. Moritz von Rohr developed the Dual Verant magnifier in 1901 when Gullstrand was in need of a magnifier that did not produce aberrations to view pictures. He worked closely with Allvar Gullstrand and Hans Boegehold to create new computations for eyeglass lenses. The first eyeglass lenses to be computed according to the new findings were known as Katral lenses. They were developed for Aphakic eyes that had no crystalline lens because of removal during cataract surgery. Katral lenses were followed in 1912 by lenses that provided point-focal images in every viewing direction: Punktal lenses. These lenses were not just an improvement over the eyeglass lenses that had been available until then; they also constituted a genuine breakthrough in eyeglass technology. Punktal lenses were the first to be computed on a strictly scientific basis. Depending on the refractive power, the lens’ curvature could be defined so that oblique astigmatism would be completely corrected for peripheral rays.

Carl Zeiss has manufactured ophthalmic instruments for more than 100 years in close cooperation with leading eyecare specialists. ZEISS and Allvar Gullstrand jointly developed the first optical systems to diagnose diseases of the eye and visual aids for various visual problems at the beginning of the 20th century. Allvar Gullstrand was later awarded the Nobel Prize. Breakthrough, trendsetting ophthalmic instruments and visual aids adaptable to the needs of each wearer have been created throughout ZEISS’ 175 year history.


Here are key milestones in ophthalmic optics lens technology and the organizations that discovered/invented them. While the list is not exhaustive, it highlights many key developments from the 19th century to modern ophthalmic optics. Hopefully it provides you with a greater appreciation for the lenses we dispense daily. 1886 - Ernst Abbe of ZEISS calculates the Abbe Value of optical clarity. 1889 - Carl Zeiss Foundation is established by Ernst Abbe, 43 years after the Carl Zeiss company’s start and one year after Carl Zeiss’ death. Thus begins ZEISS, a wholly foundation-owned company that reinvests profits into research and development, and humanitarian efforts. 1898 - Rodenstock of Germany produces the first prescription sunglasses with UV protection. 1907 - The first patent for a progressive lens, issued to Owen Aves of Great Britain. 1908 - Moritz von Rohr calculates the first magnifying visual aid using the Gullstrand imaging theory of image formation: telescopic glasses. 1910 - The Katral point-focal cataract lenses are the world’s first aspheric lenses. 1911 - Invention of the slit lamp by Allvar Gullstrand of ZEISS. 1912 - A pivotal year in modern Rx lenses. 1912 is the year that lenses changed from an artisanal craft, with poor peripheral optical clarity to a precision-based process for making focal point lenses, with groundbreaking improvements in off-center lens optics. The ZEISS Punktal lens launched that same year best illustrates this breakthrough improvement in ophthalmic lens’ peripheral optics. However, there was a long buildup of science and engineering before the breakthrough. At the time, organizations were more akin to jewelers, creating ophthalmic lenses. While the craft demanded great attention to detail, science and engineering truly advanced ophthalmic optics. In sharp contrast, the ZEISS Punktal was created by a legacy of science and engineering. Steeped in the science of lens optics, the early days of ZEISS included contributions from Carl Zeiss, who started the company in scientific microscopes. Ernst Abbe, a physicist who created the Abbe Value of optical clarity, also formed the Carl Zeiss Foundation. This legacy and collaboration led Carl Zeiss scientist Moritz Von Rohr to develop the ZEISS Punktal, a culmination of scientific optical theory and engineering manufacturing. Both Von Rohr and Gullstrand received the Nobel Prize for these contributions. Punktal was so influential that its name was etched into the glass, making it the first branded ophthalmic lens. Its name was used continuously until 2012, making it the longest surviving lens trademark in the world. The invention of Punktal also marks the beginning of the Vision Care business unit at ZEISS. Another fun fact is that before Punktal, Von Rohr invented the ZEISS Katral lens specifically for postcataract surgery patients. They were worn by the famous impressionist Claude Monet in 1923, leading him to re-paint several of his later works with more vibrant colors. 1921 - The launch of the AO Lensometer from American Optical (now part of ZEISS Vision Care). ZEISS’ foundation structure enables the investment to create the German School of Opticians, the first of its kind in Germany, to aid both patients and train technical specialists who were needed in the growing vision care manufacturing industry. 1924 - Estelle Glancy of American Optical (now part of ZEISS Vision Care) invents and patents many of the mathematical calculations necessary to create today’s progressive lenses. Estelle is recognized as the “first woman” in optics research. 1925 - Tillyer lens. Patent issued for the first lens to correct astigmatism and power at American Optical (now part of ZEISS Vision Care). An invention very similar to the Punktal lens was created in 1912. 1935 - Carl Zeiss patents the invention of coating glass surfaces to reduce reflections. 1939 - (Due to wartime military secrets. this 1935 AR coating was not patented until 1939.)

Physicist Olexander Smakula of ZEISS invents the first ophthalmic anti-reflective coating. Smakula later went on to become a professor of physics at MIT. 1945 PPG develops CR-39 monomer, the first plastic resin used in the manufacture of ophthalmic lenses. 1949 - ZEISS creates the bifocal Duopal, the first to incorporate physiological visual conditions in the design. 1950 - Donald Stookey of Corning is awarded the patent for photochromic glass. Stookey is also credited with creating Corning Ware. 1959 - ZEISS was the first to apply AR coatings commercially to ophthalmic lenses, roughly 20 years after AR’s invention. 1959 - Progressive lens technology: The first use of the term “progressive” for ophthalmic lenses in a patent by Ernst Lau and Rolf Riekher at the Institute for Optics and Spectroscopy at the German Academy of Sciences. During this time, they are joined by Guenter Minkwitz, who developed the Minkwitz theorem, which was the next mathematical basis needed to create progressive lenses. The Minkwitz theorem explains why the lateral spherocylindrical distortion or power errors in a progressive lens increase proportionately to the addition power and corridor length.

• Building on the discoveries of Aves, Glancy, Lau, Riekher, Minkowitz, and others, French engineer Bernard Maitenaz creates Varilux, the first commercially viable progressive lens. The French optical company Essel eventually becomes the “Ess” in “Essilor” after merging with Silor, now part of EssilorLuxottica.

• Orma 1000, the first plastic lens, is launched. It is more commonly known as CR39, a trademarked material from PPG Industries; it made lenses more lightweight than glass while providing good optical clarity.

1976 - Varilux launches the first progressive lens in Orma (CR39). 1980 - Permalite—the world’s first tintable abrasion-resistant coating, developed by American Optical (now ZEISS Vision Care). 1983 - Photochromic. American Optical, now a part of ZEISS Vision Care, launches the first plastic photochromic called Photolite. 1983 - Progressives: ZEISS Vision Care received the patent for horizontal symmetry in progressive lenses and launched in their lens Gradal HS. Horizonal. 1991 - Photochromic. PPG and Essilor jointly create Transitions, a lens that darkens based on the intensity of light. 1992 - ZEISS creates the world’s first computer-aided centration device, the ZEISS Video Infral. 1995 - Compensated Rx. ZEISS Vision Care invents the compensated Rx, which gives patients even clearer vision by modifying the prescription to align with the patient’s actual experienced vision through most of the lens, rather than what may be measured only through the optical center by a lensometer. 1996 - Backside-only freeform or “digitally” surfaced lenses are invented and patented by ZEISS Vision Care. The backside freeform patent was awarded to Dr. Albrecht Hof and Adalbert Hanssen of ZEISS. Considered the gold standard for producing freeform eyeglass lenses, it efficiently minimizes the alignment errors typical between the back (Rx surfacing) and the front surface (progressive lens design). The patent only recently expired. 1997 - VSP founds Sight for Students. 1998 - First progressive for small frames: AO Compact by SOLA (now part of ZEISS Vision Care). 2000 - Gradal Individual—the first completely Rx compensated backside freeform lens accounts for back vertex distance, pantoscopic tilt and wrap angle measurements. 2007 - i.Scription—ZEISS launches the world’s first combination of subjective refraction and wavefront measurement, enabling lens prescriptions up to 100th of a diopter. 2018 - With ZEISS’ launch of ZEISS UVProtect, UV protection in clear lenses is now on par with sunglass standards, protecting against UVA up to 400 nm without a perceptible difference in color of the lenses. 2020 UVClean—world’s first optometryfocused UVC frame and lens disinfection system from ZEISS.


As in many industries, the driving force behind innovations is often a combination of intellectual curiosity and the search for new profitable endeavors. The optical industry, however, is special in that several of its key manufacturers are heavily involved in using their profits to advance the study of optics or for general vision care in underserved communities.

One example is how EssilorLuxottica, a publicly-traded for-profit company, founded the Essilor Vision Foundation in 2007 to pursue the fight against impaired vision and its lifelong consequences among children. It also founded the Vision Impact Institute in 2013 and in 2015, Vision For Life, research and grant-making in vision care for underserved communities. EssilorLuxottica reinvests a portion of its profits for these and other humanitarian efforts.

VSP, the maker of Unity lenses and vision insurance products, created Sight for Students in 1997, providing gift certificates for comprehensive eye exams and prescription glasses. Since then, nearly one million children have received this benefit. VSP itself was originally founded as a not-for-profit company, and today some of its divisions have continued to retain this status.

ZEISS Vision Care also has a unique history in terms of community outreach efforts and research reinvestment. For starters, it is not a publicly-traded entity, and it has no shareholders. Instead, it is wholly-owned by the Carl Zeiss “Stiftung” Foundation. Founded in 1889 by Ernest Abbe, the Carl Zeiss Foundation has directly owned most of the ZEISS business, particularly ZEISS Vision Care, for over 130 years. All proceeds from the Carl Zeiss Foundation are reinvested into advanced optical research at leading global universities, science education and other humanitarian efforts, such as the Aloka Project in India. One notable early achievement for Ernst Abbe and the ZEISS Foundation was the creation of the 40-hour workweek for company employees in 1900, the first of its kind in Germany and one of the earliest in the entire world. In contrast, this only became law in the U.S. in 1940. Also as early as 1908, the Carl Zeiss Foundation approached the German Association of Ophthalmic Opticians (DOV) to set up a school for ophthalmic opticians in the city of Jena. In each of these cases, the proceeds of ophthalmic lens sales were used to advance these other causes. Among U.S. ophthalmic lens manufacturers, only ZEISS Vision Care is 100 percent foundation owned.


Opticianry is more than just a job; it is a calling. The optician’s work is what connects the eye exam to vision correction for the patient. Opticians perform vital work, and they can end each day proud of what they do to improve lives. Aside from this, opticians can take similar pride in the advanced ophthalmic lenses’ science and technology that they dispense daily to improve vision. Advances in vision correction have real consequences for the quality of life of ametropes and presbyopes. Companies that provide these products have invested heavily in time and money in groundbreaking scientific research. As a result, patients’ vision correction has vastly improved in the last 100 years, significantly more than the prior 1,000 years. Like the calling opticians feel to provide optimal vision correction for patients, it is the philanthropy of companies and their scientific calling that makes the world a better place through better vision. In the case of VSP and Essilor, this effort includes the formation of foundations to help the vision needs of underserved communities. On the other hand, entirely holistic foundation ownership like that of the ZEISS Foundation uses profits to not only serve various humanitarian causes but to fund the advancement of modern ophthalmic science. In contrast, we increasingly see the commoditization of eyeglass lenses, particularly on the internet. This commoditization often means a compromise in the quality of the ophthalmic lens prescription and the patient’s finished product. Usually provided without a comprehensive eye exam and in-depth refraction, lenses of this nature do not provide optimal vision correction for the patient. Most patients require a much more robust eye exam experience and lenses that match this high level of care. These products are generally available only at in-person optical dispensaries. The in-person experience allows the doctor to perform an in-depth refraction and a comprehensive eye exam. This eye health care level deserves the inperson experience with a professional optician that fills the prescription with the best ophthalmic lens technology. A professional optician’s invaluable expertise in lens selection, fitting, measuring and adjusting the perfect frame is key to optical lens performance and aesthetics.

We hope those who complete this course will have gained a deeper appreciation of the history of the craft they have chosen. Opticians who understand the science and technology that lead to today’s advanced lens designs are better equipped to help patients understand that purchasing quality lenses is a worthwhile investment. The patient investment reflects the magnitude of inventors and ophthalmic lens scientists’ investment, especially when considering the long history of ophthalmic scientific discoveries and technological development.